GREENSBORO — It’s November, not even Thanksgiving yet, and UNCG is off to a 1-0 start in the Southern Conference basketball standings.
Such is the oddity of college basketball scheduling this season, with a handful of leagues playing games that count earlier than usual.
It worked out for The G.
Isaiah Miller scored 23 points and Kyrin Galloway scored 18 on 5-for-7 shooting from the 3-point line to help UNCG hold off pesky VMI 74-63 in a Sunday afternoon SoCon matinee at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Senior center James Dickey finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots for the Spartans (1-0 SoCon, 5-2), who closed the game on a 10-0 scoring run after the Keydets (0-1, 2-6) had cut the lead to one.
“It’s my first time in four years playing a conference game in November,” Dickey said. “But we enjoy conference games. They’re really competitive, and that’s a lot of fun. We only get 18 of these games, so any time we can knock one off we’re always happy.”
The timing is tricky.
UNCG, like most teams, is still in search of itself right now. November and December are typically months of self-discovery in college basketball before conference play begins in earnest after New Year’s Day.
“Our team really is a work in progress,” UNCG coach Wes Miller said. “We understand what our identity needs to be for us to be good. We’re working on building that. We’re still so far away from figuring out who we are offensively. We’re so far away from figuring out our best combinations and our rotation, where guys fit in and their roles. …
“That’s OK in November, as long as you keep getting better. But we’re nowhere near hitting our groove. And so you don’t want to play a league game when you’re not hitting your groove. We’re just happy we found a way to win today.”
It wasn’t easy. Don’t be fooled by the final score.
UNCG played its best basketball in the closing minutes of each half.
The Spartans outscored VMI 10-4 over the final 4:41 of the first half to take a 43-30 lead, then shot a miserable 3-for-19 from the field after halftime as the Keydets chipped away, cutting the lead to one three times before UNCG’s game-ending run.
“We weren’t as focused and engaged defensively as we need to be,” Wes Miller said. “And, listen, it didn’t go our way on the offensive end in the second half. Even when we had good possessions and got good looks, the ball didn’t go in. And it’s natural to let that affect your energy. But good teams don’t do that. We’re not trying to be average or normal. We’re trying to be great.”
Thus, the work in progress. And this was a challenging game for a team still figuring out just who it is. It’s a game The G’s veterans won.
“VMI plays unorthodox defense,” Dickey said. “You don’t always know if they’re in man-to-man or zone, and it can affect you mentally, make you second-guess and get you out of the flow of your usual offense. They do really good executing their defense.”
So, too, did the Spartans down the stretch. With the game on the line, they shut out VMI over the final 3:24.
“There were times we were circumstantial defensively in the second half,” Wes Miller said. “One time I got in a timeout and begged them, just begged them, to play with more energy and effort on that end of the floor. But all that said, you’ve got to tip your cap to VMI. … They had us on our heels.”
On their heels in a conference game before Thanksgiving.
“It is odd, but … there’s a good reason for it,” Wes Miller said. “They’re trying to make it so we avoid those three-games-in-five-days or four-games-in-seven-days situations we’ve had to battle through in January and February. That just doesn’t seem healthy for anybody, coaches or players. I do think it’s good to spread the schedule out a little bit. But it’s certainly something we’re not used to, playing a conference game in November.”
NOTES: Galloway, a 6-foot-8 “stretch four” forward, quietly led UNCG in 3-point shooting percentage last season. His 17 threes so far this year lead the team, and he’s shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc. … Sophomore wing Kaleb Hunter came in averaging a team-high 15.5 points, but scored just four on 1-for-3 shooting in 28 minutes. He had three assists. … Senior guard Malik Massey scored eight points. The G’s top four scorers vs. VMI were three seniors and a junior. … UNCG is 4-0 at the Greensboro Coliseum so far this year. … The Spartans next game is at Georgetown, just their second road game of the season.